Practiced regularly, the benefits of Tai Chi exercise include mood enhancement, lower levels of stress and anxiety, a reduced incidence of depression, stronger muscles, and better balance among other things.
These benefits can be experienced by people of any age and fitness level regardless of whether they are healthy or suffering chronic medical conditions.
Utilizing movement, visualization, and breathing, Tai Chi works the entire body.
Excellent for rehabilitation, some of the movements can even be adapted for people with certain physical disabilities.
Though related to martial arts, Tai Chi workouts are slow, gentle, and fluid. Practitioners progress from one move to the next without stopping while breathing deeply but naturally. Many of the movements are circular, enabling the muscles to remain relaxed throughout.
In this article on the benefits of Tai Chi, we will look at its origins, what it can do for you, and more.
The Origins of Tai Chi
Millions of people the world over have embraced Tai Chi Chuan, AKA Taijiquan, as a relaxing and enjoyable exercise that combines yoga and some elements of meditation. Designed as a noncombative martial arts technique, Tai Chi’s roots are in ancient China. Created by Zhang San Feng, a Taoist monk, it is estimated to date back between 700 and 1,500 years.
The words Tai Chi Chuan translate to “supreme ultimate boxing.” When referenced as an exercise for health, its translation is “supreme ultimate exercise.” A form of Qigong (Chi Kung), this translates to breath skill or energy.
Although formerly a martial art, today Tai Chi is known for its health benefits. Its philosophy is based on the concept that everything is made up of two opposing parts that harmonize to create a whole. For example, Yin and Yang, black and white, left and right, inhale and exhale, etc.
When one part of the body moves during Tai Chi, the entire body moves. The result is an organic set of movements which improve the practitioner’s health, strength, and power and promote longevity.
Who Should and Shouldn’t do Tai Chi?
Being low-impact, Tai Chi is suitable for almost anyone, including those who are unfit and the elderly. Many of the moves are adaptable for people in wheelchairs.
While generally very safe, as with any exercise, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you start.
Tai Chi may not be advisable for pregnant women, people with bone fractures, severe osteoporosis or joint problems, and those with back pain, or hernias.
Anyone who suffers dizzy spells may also need to avoid it. However, people with any of the conditions mentioned above may be able to do Tai Chi with modification.
The Primary Benefits of Tai Chi Exercise
Tai Chi can be the answer to myriad health issues including muscle stiffness, arthritis, stress, and poor balance among others. Keep reading, to find out about some of the primary benefits of Tai Chi exercise.
LOWERS STRESS & ANXIETY
Most physical activity, including Tai Chi exercise, can alleviate emotional problems such as stress and anxiety. A mind-body practice that is often described as being meditation in motion,” the gentle flowing Tai Chi exercise movements promote relaxation.
An added benefit is that when combined with Qigong, it helps practitioners focus their minds on their breathing and movements. During this process, the brain relaxes, and the mind calms. Consequently, Tai Chi exercises can go a long way in helping you to manage stress and anxiety.
IMPROVES MOBILITY, FLEXIBILITY, & STRENGTH
Another of the most noteworthy benefits of Tai Chi is that it helps improve mobility. Mobility is one of the most underrated physical health conditions. We take it for granted, never fully appreciating it until we lose it. Even something minor like a hamstring pull or a strained calf muscle can significantly affect mobility. More chronic problems such as back pain can even confine a person to bed.
Injuries aside, advancing age can cause muscles to lose flexibility. This, in turn, can negatively impact our ability to move smoothly and efficiently. Tai Chi exercise movements can go a long way towards alleviating these problems by strengthening muscles and making them more flexible.
IMPROVES AEROBIC CAPACITY & STABILIZES BLOOD PRESSURE
Our aerobic capacity decreases with age. This is, however, reversible to a certain extent, with exercise able to improve fitness and lung capacity. Individuals who regularly practice Tai Chi are known to have a higher aerobic function than those who don’t. This is the case, regardless of their age. And with something as gentle and non-stressful on the joints as Tai Chi exercise movements, it’s never too late to start.
Studies have shown that people who regularly practice Tai Chi can stabilize and even lower their blood pressure.
Another of the Tai Chi benefits is that it is suitable for most people, including those living with arthritis.
Arthritis negatively impacts the muscles, bones, and joints, causing chronic pain and muscle stiffness. The pain can intensify when the sufferer places pressure on the affected joints as occurs during exercise. With its gentle and therapeutic nature, Tai Chi exercise can often be undertaken by these people who may not be able to do other forms of fitness training. Tai Chi exercise movements may even help to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis.
One of the most valuable Tai Chi benefits is that it can reduce fatigue.
Our modern world is a busy one, and it’s not uncommon for people to suffer from fatigue on a regular basis. Along with ruining our quality of life, fatigue can impair our ability to function at our best, negatively impacting our home, family, and working life.
A valuable benefit of Tai Chi exercise is that when practiced regularly it will energize you. According to traditional Chinese medicine, our body’s energy channels through pathways or meridians. If the meridians block, we become tired and can even suffer illness. Tai Chi exercise movements can remove these blockages, enabling “Qi” to flow freely.
Top 10 Tai Chi Moves for Beginners
Will Tai Chi Help me to Lose Weight and Tone my Muscles?
To lose 1 pound of body fat, you will need to burn 3,500 calories. During a 30-minute Tai Chi session, someone weighing 155 pounds will burn approximately 150 calories. (People weighing less than this will burn fewer calories. Heavier people will burn more calories.) While this may not sound like much if you have a lot of weight to lose, the numbers will add up over time. Combining your Tai Chi exercise program with cardio sessions and a sensible eating plan will speed up your results
Tai Chi will improve your muscle tone, but it will not build bulk. It will, however, strengthen your muscles.
Will I Need to buy Special Clothes and Shoes for Tai Chi?
When doing Tai Chi wear loose-fitting clothing that won’t restrict your movements. As for shoes, regular sports shoes won’t work. Choose lightweight shoes with flexible soles, or practice barefoot if you prefer.
What Does a Typical Tai Chi Workout Entail?
A typical Tai Chi workout comprises a Warm-Up, Instruction, Practice, and Qigong.
The Warm-Up consists of easy movements to loosen your muscles and prepare your joints. The moves will usually include shoulder circles, gentle back and forth rocking, turning your head from side-to-side, and similar motions that will help you to relax and focus on your breathing.
Instruction and Practice come in either short or long form, with forms being sets of movements. Short forms can contain fewer than a dozen moves. Long forms may include hundreds.
There are also different styles, some of which involve small moves, others large. When starting out, it’s best to do short forms containing small movements, especially if you are a senior or if you haven’t exercised in a while.
Qigong consists of a few minutes of gentle breathing, the aim of which is to relax your mind and mobilize your body’s energy. It can be done standing, sitting, or lying down. Qigong may, or may not, involve body movement.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Tai Chi Exercise
Regular Tai Chi exercise sessions can deliver physical, emotional, and general health benefits above and beyond that of many other forms of exercise.
People of any age and almost any physical condition can take advantage of Tai Chi’s gentleness to enhance their musculoskeletal health, emotional stability, and aerobic capacity. It’s also an excellent option for people who have arthritis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
If you don’t want to join a class, buying a Tai Chi DVD will enable you to enjoy the benefits of Tai Chi exercise at home. One I like and recommend is Tai Cheng, a Beachbody program created in collaboration with Tai Chi Master Dr. Mark Cheng.